Neymar: ‘The Boy Who Cried Wolf’ deserves sympathy

first_imgThe story of ‘The Boy Who Cried Wolf’ rarely provokes any sympathy among its readers. If anything, his grisly end is usually deemed just punishment for such incessant deception. As a player long accused of feigning injury to win fouls, Neymar would be a most fitting protagonist for any footballing version of Aesop’s fable. Indeed, he lay prone on the pitch for a staggering 14 minutes of Brazil’s 2014 World Cup campaign yet remarkably emerged unscathed. Article continues below Editors’ Picks ‘There is no creativity’ – Can Solskjaer get Man Utd scoring freely again? ‘Everyone legged it on to the pitch!’ – How Foden went from Man City superfan to future superstar Emery out of jail – for now – as brilliant Pepe papers over Arsenal’s cracks What is Manchester United’s ownership situation and how would Kevin Glazer’s sale of shares affect the club? Thus, Wednesday’s news that he now faces 10 weeks on the sidelines with a foot injury is unlikely to result in every single football fan wishing Neymar a speedy recovery. Even some fellow footballers will struggle to summon up any empathy for the stricken Selecao skipper.He certainly won’t be receiving a ‘Get well soon’ card from Strasbourg’s Anthony Goncalves.He watched team-mate Moataz Zemzemi kick Neymar three times in quick succession in last week’s Coupe de France clash at Parc des Princes, a sustained assault that led to the 26-year-old leaving the pitch injured and struggling to hold back the tears.Nonetheless, Goncalves’ post-match response was devoid of even a shred of compassion, still coloured by the attacker’s perceived showboating.”Neymar’s a great player but we’re not there to have fun with him,” he declared. “We respond with our weapons and we have colours to defend.”We’re not here to joke around, so he must not come and cry afterwards.”Neymar Goncalves PSClearly, when it comes to Neymar, patience is running thin on the ground. And has been for some time.After a Champions League game against PSG in which Neymar was booked for diving, Celtic defender Mikael Lustig said of the winger’s theatrics: “It was the same as usual from Neymar. “He is an unbelievable footballer but we have seen the other stuff before and we will see it again.”I have said before that it’s part of his game. He tries to overreact a bit to make the defender step off. We will see it again and again.”If he wants to be liked as much as [Lionel] Messi, maybe he needs to stop that.”He didn’t, though, and he won’t. Not as long as he continues to feel referees aren’t doing enough to protect him from overly aggressive opponents. There is even mounting evidence to suggest that he believes he is little more than a moving target in Ligue 1.According to reports in Spain last week, Barcelona officials showed Frenkie de Jong messages from Neymar complaining about the treatment he was receiving in France, in a bid to persuade Ajax’s in-demand midfielder to move to Camp Nou rather than Parc des Princes.This latest injury is, therefore, only likely to strengthen the former Santos star’s resolve to leave Paris.He sensationally quit Barca in 2017 to escape Lionel Messi’s shadow, sold on the idea of winning the Champions League and, as a consequence, the Ballon d’Or.Neymar Lustig PSHowever, he now risks watching PSG crash out of the competition for the second consecutive season with the same injury (to the same foot) that ruled him out of last year’s last-16, second-leg loss to Real Madrid.That would make for a most painful and concerning case of déjà vu, and cast considerable doubt over his future in the French capital.As we well know by now, Neymar is an emotional and sensitive soul. As countless team-mates – past and present – have testified, he is, by nature, a happy-go-lucky character and, therefore, a predominantly positive presence in the dressing room and on the training field.However, he is, like many of us, prone to sudden mood changes when faced with obstacles or adversity.As Thiago Motta has previously mused, “Neymar needs to be happy to be on the field. “When all goes well, he smiles, dances, puts on music and the three hours that we spend together in training run at one go.”But sometimes I saw him arrive in the morning and I said to myself, ‘Oh, it’s going to be difficult today.'”This could be related to his personal life or to what he had eaten at breakfast!”Given his demeanour can be so easily influenced by trivial matters, it’s hardly surprising, then, that injuries have always hit Neymar hard. And understandably so. Few players better appreciate the precarious nature of a footballer’s career than Neymar. Neymar Thiago Motta PSHe was very nearly left paralysed by the knee in the back he received from Juan Camilo Zuniga at the 2014 World Cup.  That incident alone could explain his apparent aversion to tackles, or, in fairness, even the slightest of contact, which is often followed by the kind of exaggeration that even his compatriot Pele felt compelled to address last week.However, what is of greater concern than Neymar’s reaction to challenges, is his body’s. This will be the 11th time since arriving in Europe in 2013 that he has been out of action for 10 days or more. What’s more, at the time of writing, only Ismaila Sarr has suffered more fouls (91) across Europe’s ‘Big Five’ leagues this season than Neymar (88) – and even then, the Rennes winger has played six more games. Essentially, the hits keep coming and they are clearly taking their toll, giving rise to the very real fear that this impudent talent runs the risk of being kicked out of the game.That would be a tragic loss of talent, even accounting for the fact that diving is a plague, the most obvious on-field manifestation of the win-at-all-costs mentality that now pervades the game, and Neymar is viewed as its most high-profile exponent. He may well be football’s answer to ‘The Boy Who Cried Wolf’ but that doesn’t make his pain any less worthy of sympathy.last_img

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